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A Little Bit of Grandma

Holding on tight to the memory of someone special

· Ponderings

I lost my grandma at 11.  She was one of my favorite people in the world. When you lose someone that was the center of your universe at such a young age, it leaves a pretty big hole and the slightest thing can trigger a memory that brings you back. 


Grandma was really creative. Her parents immigrated from Czechoslovakia and settled along with six of her father's brothers in a North Dakota homestead. That bohemian spirit ran strong and it was evident in the way she liked to party, the food she shared, the colors in her garden and the way she decorated her home. From the time I knew Grandma, her home was the former headmasters quarters of the railroad boss during the time of Japanese internment camps. Grandpa worked for the railroad and they were allowed to live there in exchange for keeping up the property. 

The house was nestled in the hills outside of town, Poison Creek quietly flowing across the tracks and down the ravine. It was a tiny little place with many outbuildings that she covered with bright lime green and red paint, and surrounded with lush and colorful plants. Rounding the corner from the dusty cow trail that led to the house through the sage brush, it was truly a vision. An oasis in the middle of a desert. There was the shower room, the outhouse, the den, the water shack, and across the creek a bunk house where the prisoners used to sleep. There was no electricity or indoor bathroom, which although difficult to explain, was magical. Flickering kerosene lanterns lit the rooms where we played cribbage (and poker), listened to the coyotes howl and were tucked into bed atop her massive feather tick.  

She lead a colorful life, hopping a train and running away with my grandpa, who was married at the time, to start a life together on the west coast. She went away to college to learn to be a secretary but also learned to be a flapper girl. She had my aunt Jeri, who I'm named after, and a few years later  my dad, Spencer. Dad couldn't pronounce his name right when he was little and it earned him the nickname "Penny".  When the kids were young they made a pact to name their first born children after one another so when I was born I took my aunt's name and her first born, also a girl, was named Peni. Grandma was passionate about everything she did. Gardening. Cooking. Telling stories. Partying. Loving.

When Grandma died, Grandpa just didn't have the heart to stay at the old place on Poison Creek so he packed up and moved to town. Most of Grandma's things disappeared over time and there wasn't much left when Grandpa passed years later. My brother found a few of her plates in the old hunting cabin that remains and brought them to me several years ago. They are mismatched small salad plates, two dark black ones and a clear glass one. Although they are not much to look at, they were hers and I have loved having them as something that remains. Occasionally I take my breakfast on one, letting nostalgia wash over me.

I've been an artist since I can remember. I've always been drawn to staying inside the lines. During the pandemic, I was feeling really isolated and constrained so I decided to mix it up a bit. I always kept my art within one medium; watercolor, collage, acrylic or gauche. Instead, I started mixing mediums from paper to pastels and everything in between. And coloring outside the lines. With abandon.  

One day while I was painting away, I remembered the plates and pulled out the glass one and brought it to my art table. I started adding colors, mixing and stirring. As I covered my canvas with bright pinks, greens and yellows, some of the colors that dotted her garden all those years ago, I felt reconnected to my Grandma. It reminded me that the simplest things in life are often the things that bring the most joy.     


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